You have a bunch of leftover chicken salad, and you’re wondering how many days you have before it spoils. How long does chicken salad last?
Or perhaps you’re considering doubling your usual recipe, but you’re not sure if you’ll finish it before it goes bad.
Sounds familiar? If so, this article is for you.
In in, we’re going to talk about:
- shelf life – how long is chicken salad good for?
- storing homemade (or store-bought) chicken salad – dos and don’ts
- freezing chicken salad – does it work?
- telling if your old chicken salad is still safe to eat
Let’s jump right in.
How Long Does Chicken Salad Last?
Chicken salad lasts 3 to 5 days if you keep it refrigerated and in a sealed container. That’s the time that it stays safe for. The second issue is how long the salad retains good quality, and it all depends on the ingredients.
If it’s a mayo-based chicken salad, it’ll likely taste quite alright for the whole period. But if the dressing is oil-based (e.g., vinaigrette), the salad’s quality after 3 to 4 days might not be nearly as good as it was right after mixing all the ingredients together.
If it’s a salad with high moisture content, the veggies might wilt and lose their crunch after a couple of days. For some people, those qualities are important; for others, not so much.
Finally, like tuna salad or pasta salad, if your chicken salad includes any ingredients that rapidly lose quality, it might be good for only a day or two.
If you’re not okay with eating a soggy chicken salad with soft veggies, try to finish yours within two to three days for the best quality.
Let’s say you want to bring that salad with you on a picnic. How long can chicken salad sit out?
Like all foods that require refrigeration, you should discard your chicken salad if it sits out for more than two hours. If it’s a hot summer day, that period is cut in half to about an hour.
That’s because bacteria multiply rapidly in temperatures between 40°F (4°C) and 140°F (60°C), also known as the danger zone ([USDA]).
If you want to bring the salad with you, either use a portable fridge or eat the salad within 2 hours of prepping it (or taking it from the refrigerator). And discard any leftovers if they aren’t properly refrigerated.
How To Store Chicken Salad
Your chicken salad should sit in the fridge, sealed tightly in an airtight container. If yours is store-bought, and you can’t reseal it easily, transfer any leftovers into a food container and refrigerate.
If your salad contains lots of greens (like lettuce, spinach, or kale), use a bigger container and avoid squeezing in as much as you can into a single one. This way, the veggies won’t wilt as quickly and will retain quality for longer.
As usual, if you’re not going to finish the contents of a container in one go, always use clean tools when serving the salad, and never double-dip. By following this rule, you avoid microbial contamination that might cause the chicken salad to grow mold prematurely.
What if those couple of days in the fridge aren’t long enough for you? Is freezing chicken salad your way out?
Can You Freeze Chicken Salad?
Unfortunately, freezing chicken salad isn’t a good idea in most cases. The thawed chicken salad won’t look or taste nearly as good as a fresh one. It will be safe to eat, obviously, but its quality really suffers in the process.
When it comes to freezing this salad, here’s what’s likely to go sideways:
- if it includes mayo or a dairy-based dressing, it will separate
- egg whites will turn rubbery
- most veggies will turn limp and release extra water – you will end up with a soggy chicken salad
- if there are any fruit pieces, most of them will undergo a similar process to veggies, which means even more sogginess and no crunch
As you can tell, there’s not much good that can come out of freezing a chicken salad that you whipped or bought.
The good news is that cooked grains (e.g., rice or quinoa) and cooked chicken freeze well. You can take advantage of this by prepping more grains or chicken than needed (e.g., twice as much) and freezing the extra.
This way, when you want to make the salad, you thaw the chicken and grains, and prep only the veggies, fruits, and dressing. That speeds things up at least a bit, plus the salad you end up with is actually tasty.
How To Tell If Chicken Salad Is Bad?
Discard your chicken salad if:
- There’s mold on the surface. If you see any fuzzy action, throw out all of the leftovers. The same applies if it looks off in any other way.
- The salad smells funny. If your nose says that salad is no good, get rid of it right away without tasting it.
- It sits in the fridge for too long. If the salad is in the refrigerator for like 6 or 7 days already, just ditch it. It might still be okay to eat, but you never know.
- It tastes off. If everything up to this point seems okay, give that salad a taste. If you notice that something isn’t quite right, it’s time for that dish to go.
Besides the above, pay attention to the moisture that tends to gather on the bottom of the container. That’s especially true for salads with an oil-based dressing.
If there’s lots of water, and that salad already sits in the fridge for like 4 days, consider discarding it for safety reasons. That liquid is a great place for any bacteria to grow and multiply, and consuming that might not be the smartest thing to do.
If your salad gets watery quickly, consider storing it without the dressing and storing the salad dressing separately. Or whipping a new portion of the dressing anytime you want to eat the salad, if feasible. This way, that salad might retain quality and safety for longer.
Last but not least: when in doubt, throw it out.